~THE MITZVAH OF BUILDING THE TEMPLE~
Adapted from Derech
Mitzvosecha by Rabbi Yossi Marcus
[ the 95th mitzvah of the Torah])
To Build a Temple, as it is written, “They shall make for Me a temple
and I will reside within them” (Ex. 25:8).
The following are the integral
aspects of the temple’s construction: It must have a section called Holy and one
that is called Holy of Holies. Before the Holy there shall be a space called
the Ulam. All three together are called Heichal. A wall shall be built surrounding
the Heichal at a distance similar to the distance between the Tabernacle and the
fence that surrounded its courtyard. All that is surrounded by this wall, similar
to the courtyard of the Tabernacle, is called Azarah. The entire structure is
called Mikdash (temple). Inside the temple there shall be the vessels enumerated
in the Torah: the ark in the Holy of Holies, the Menorah, the Table, the inner
Altar in the Holy, and the outer Altar in the Courtyard.
primary purpose of the temple is to facilitate the revelation of Divinity—“and
I shall reside within them.” We are therefore commanded to construct the temple
so that it mirrors the structure of the worlds as they are emanated from the Essence
of the Eyn Sof.
To explain. In Mishnas Chasidim, the process of creation
is described as follows: The Eyn Sof constricted His light and cleared a place
[i.e., emptied it of His light], a circular
place etc. He then drew into this space a Column of light (kav). The light
descended in circles, creating ten circles one within the other, each circle being
further and further away from the Eyn Sof. These ten circles are the ten sefiros:
Kesser, Chochmah, Binah etc. The descent of these circles was followed by the
emanation of the ten sefiros of “straightness,” yosher, etc.,
see there (Maseches Alef Beis, Seder Zeraim).
[These descriptions are obviously not to
be understood in a spatial sense. Chasidus often emphasizes that “surrounding”
means transcendent, i.e., unperceivable and ungraspable.
this description seems to imply that both iggulim and yosher emanate
equally from “the Column,” the truth is that iggulim stems from the “great
circle” that precedes the Column. See footnote.]
The meaning of this
is as follows. It is known that the internal, permeating light, ohr pnimi [yosher],
is the light that provides revelation of Divinity within each realm according
to its specific properties. The light that “surrounds,” ohr makkif [iggulim], remains hidden and does not
differentiate between one realm and the next.
Now, the Holy One blessed
is He desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds that would mirror the beginning
of the process of emanation from the Essence of the Eyn Sof. He therefore commanded
that the Tabernacle (and similarly the Temple) be constructed in a manner that
includes both makkif and pnimi, surrounding and internal [iggulim
The covers and boards that surrounded the Tabernacle
mirror the surrounding lights that are a) beyond Atzilus, and b) those within
Atzlilus. [There were two basic layers surrounding
the Tabernacle: 1) the boards that made up its walls, and 2) the covers that were
draped over the entire structure. Apparently, the Tzemach Tzedek is saying that
the covers, the outer circle, correspond to the surrounding lights that
are beyond Atzilus, whereas the boards, which formed the inner circle, correspond
to the surrounding lights that are within Atzilus.]
by contrast, mirror the internal light, which emanates from the Column and provides
actual revelation of Divinity in every world. Thus we find that each of the vessels
served as a vehicle for Divine revelation:
The Ark: “I will set My
meetings with you there, and I shall speak to you…from between the two Cherubim…”
(Ex. 25:22) The Altar: A fire descended from heaven [and
consumed the offerings, a clear of demonstration of Divine presence].
The Menorah: The Talmud (Shabbos 22b) calls it a “testimony for the entire
world that the Divine presence rests amid Israel.” [The
Talmud explains that one of the lamps of the Menorah miraculously burned throughout
the day.] The Table: The show-bread remained hot [and fresh throughout the week].
The general concept of transcendent and internal light demands
explanation. If revelation comes through the internal light, what need is there
for the transcendent light? Why is it that creation—indeed, any Divine influx—takes
place through both lights?
In Tikunei Zohar (ch. 2) it is written that creation
is described in two ways: 1) as the word of G-d—“by G-d’s word were
the heavens made” (Psalms 33:6), and 2) the desire of G-d—“G-d created
all that He desired” (ibid. 135:6). The word of G-d refers to the internal
light, while the desire of G-d refers to the transcendent light.
is also explained that the transcendent light is the one that provides the primary
source of life for all beings. The difference between the two lights is that the
transcendent remains concealed, while the internal is revealed. Furthermore, the
transcendent treats each level equally, while the internal is subdivided and applied
to the specific capacity of each realm.
Here we shall add for you a metaphor
from “my flesh” [as in the verse, “from my flesh I perceive G-d” (Job
19:26), man being a metaphor for the Divine], from the manifestation of
the soul in the body, which also provides two different life forces: transcendent
The internal life force varies from one limb to another. Wisdom
resides in the brain, emotion in the heart, etc. Now the wisdom that resides in
the brain does so in a revealed manner—the nature and being of the wisdom is sensed
by the brain. The brain is “filled” with the wisdom as a vessel fills with water.
This is because the physical makeup of the brain is a suitable vessel for wisdom.
And so it is with the other limbs and their particular abilities. This is the
internal light, which the soul extends to the limbs, and which must be consistent
with the “vessel,” the particular limb.
The transcendent life force is the
soul’s desire and will. We observe that as soon as the soul wishes the hand or
foot to move its desire is immediately fulfilled. This tells us that the soul’s
will is manifest in the foot, literally. Otherwise, there would be some delay
between the soul’s desire and the implementation. Indeed it is known that there
are “arteries and veins” of the brain that spread throughout the body, and which
do not contain blood. Their function is only to serve as vessels for the soul’s
desire so that it can rule over the body through them, to move the hand or leg.
Yet the actual movement takes place through the internal life force, which is
manifest in the blood and which grows stronger through the consumption of food
So the will of the soul exists throughout the body but in a concealed
manner. The limb cannot sense it. It is not manifest in the manner of lights
and suitable vessels and therefore does not differentiate between the limbs. The
head and the foot are equal.
All of this is a metaphor for the two types
of light that sustains the world, transcendent and manifest, sovev and
Just as the will of the soul controls the body through
the internal life-force, so too the transcendent light creates the beings through
the internal light.
dual Divine light explains an apparent contradiction between two verses. In Isaiah
(6:3) it is written that the earth is filled with his glory, i.e., radiance.
By contrast, in Jeremiah (23:24) we read, “I fill heaven and earth”—G-d
Himself, not just His radiance. The first verse refers to the permeating light,
the light of memale, while the second verse speaks of the transcendent
light, sovev, for which heaven and earth are equal.
Even after the Temple is destroyed, it is still possible to draw
forth the lights that were present in the Temple and its vessels. This is done
through one’s divine service—“and I will reside in them,” says G-d [not “in it,” i.e., the Temple]—for every soul
possesses covers and vessels:
The inner and outer hearts are the inner and
outer altars. The outer heart is home to the animalistic drives of man, which
must be elevated like the animals on the outer altar. This service is experienced
during the section of prayer called pesukei d’zimrah, verses of praise.
The inner heart is a place that is beyond such struggle. The service
of the inner heart is to unite with G-d in a wondrous union. Similarly, no animal
is placed on the inner altar, only the incense. [The Hebrew word for incense, ketores, connotes
“tying” and unifying (kesher).] This is experienced during the section
of prayer called Emes v’yatziv. [In a similar
vein, the Tzemach Tzedek explains the significance of all the vessels in the human
Drawing forth the transcendent light, the “covers,”
refers to the service of G-d that is performed against one’s will, contrary to
the inclination of mind and heart. [Just as the
transcendent light remains hidden, so too in such service the motivation and spiritual
experience is not apparent and G-d is served despite their absence.] This
level is beyond the service performed with desire and comprehension and elicits
the supernal will, which resided in the covers—the level beyond Chochmah and Binah.
The discourse is taken from Derech Mitzvosecha
(Path of Your Commandments), subtitled Taamei Hamitvos (Reasons
of the Mitzvos). Derech Mitzvosecha was written by the third Chabad
Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (known as the Tzemach Tzedek), some time between
1814 and 1828. It was published for the first time in Paltava in 1911. As its
title suggests, the book is a collection of discourses that expound upon the inner
meaning of the Torah’s commandments. The Tzemach Tzedek provides the kabbalistic
significance of some 60 of the 613 commandments of the Torah. The following is
an excerpt from the discourse entitled “The Mitzvah of Building the Temple,“ which
explains the kabbalistic significance of the Tabernacle that the Israelites built
in the desert as well as the Temples built in Jerusalem.
kabbalistic work by Rabbi Emanuel Chai Riki, one of the commentators on Arizal’s
See the essay on Mikeitz,
“Dreams and Circles.” Iggulim and Yosher: Creation is described in Kabbala
as a process including “circles and straightness,” iggulim and yosher
(see Eitz Chaim, drush iggulim v’yosher). In
short, iggulim describes the Divine light that does not conform or tailor
itself to the recipient of the light. It remains “undefined” and infinite like
a circle that has no beginning or end. The source of iggulim is the “great circle”
that precedes the kav (Column of light). Yosher represents the Divine
light that conforms to the recipient; it is rooted in the “kav,” or “line,”
which entered the “hollow” space of Divine concealment after the original tzimtzum.
Yosher refers to the manifestation of Divinity through the ten sefiros
as they are in the form of a man, the triads of Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferes etc.
See Derech Mitzvosecha 76b-77a. Iggulim “surrounds” and transcends
its subject (makkif) and is not internalized, while Yosher is identified
with ohr pnimi, a light that is internalized by its recipient. Iggulim
is the source of transcendence, faith, beyond nature and rules, while yosher
is the source for revelation, immanence, intellect and emotions, internalization,
and the natural order.
Yossi Marcus is director of Chabad outreach activities in S. Mateo, California.
He is also the editor of the Q&A database at AskMoses.com and is one of the translators
at Kehot Publication Society.